Fr Martin Onwudiwe/Chinelo Nwadialor
When the story of the advent of the deadly COVID-19 filtered in last December from China, we were at the heat of the preparations for the Christmas celebrations and the news was visited with very weak interest. It was more or less considered a china thing and believed to have originated and to end with them. A little more interest was given to it when the news had it that the virus had extended to China’s neighboring countries. China adopted the total lockdown strategy as a way to curb the spread of the virus while figures of victims of the virus kept rising. The beginning of the year 2020 came with news of further spread of the virus to Europe and later to America. Little did America know that a record of over 100 000 deaths from the Coronavirus will be associated with it after a few months of the visit of the virus.
Here in Africa, in January 2020 life was still normal with majority still struggling with the normal January financial weigh down comprising of house rents, school fees, shop rent and so on. Schools were abreast with their endless fees with which they terrorized parents of their students at the beginning of the term. Woe to those parents who have their wards in the exam classes. Reopening days were always considered principals’ festival (which will be a talk of another day). The active consciousness of the entire story came to us on the news of the arrival of the virus in Nigeria on 27th February, 2020 by one Italian expatriate who came into the country from Milan, Italy. In as much as little was said about the expatriate, it is on records that he brought the virus to Nigeria. No doubt subsequent carriers may have flown into the country thereafter. The country started with the precautionary measures of curtailing the spread of the virus such as maintaining social distance, regular washing of hands with liquid soap, use of alcoholic-based hand sanitizer and coughing into the elbow. Just as we are used to running from the rain after being drained, months after the arrival of the virus, some (I wouldn’t want to say many) yet, do not believe in the presence of the virus in Nigeria, no thanks to the use of the social media in spreading fake news. At the other extreme, however, some invested in fabricating panic inducing news while others still are more concerned in making more money from the entire situation.
The entire situation changed phase at the instruction to close down all schools indefinitely after which a total lockdown was announced beginning from Lagos State, Ogun State and the Federal Capital Territory to the rest of the states of the nation. The ease of lockdown after about a month still restricts elaborate celebrations, crowded funeral ceremonies, jam-packed Sunday services and reopening of schools. That notwithstanding, our crowded markets remain chaotic and apparently uncontrollable. A lot of changes unavoidably accompany the entire situation. We wish to see some of the changes brought about by the COVID-19 situation especially on the students of both primary and secondary schools in Nigeria.
Some of the changes encountered by the students as a result of the COVID -19 holidays may be irreversible. In as much as students’ impromptu nationwide dismissal from schools threw the teachers, parents and the students into confusion, it however introduced them into new and spontaneous engagements like the world of online studies. This, though may have been part of the school curriculum, was never tailored towards involving all courses and from a distance. Parents have been forced by the situation to lay down their mobile phones for the education of their kids from home and at the same time ensuring they have sufficient data for the online studies. The trial and error studies will definitely bring both the teachers and students closer to sufficient online education engagements. Kids are now expected by their parents and teachers to spend more useful time online than in watching film or other time-consuming features of the internet.
An increased parent-teen relationship is another good side of the compulsory holidays. COVID-19 holidays offered parents ample and better opportunity in knowing and interacting with their children than ever. Much as some of the parents are already lamenting on the indefinite lingering holidays, they wouldn’t deny the fact that an increased parent-teen relationship is part of its consequence. Some fathers have taken their sons on a journey of being successful in life while mothers began nurturing their girl children on sex education and being industrious. Though many parents are bored already while some shy away from sensitive discussions with their children, they have not failed to see what may become of these children if not properly guided.
Stressing on the enhanced personal hygiene resulting from the circumstance may result to overlabouring the obvious. The global attention on personal hygiene will definitely last for ages especially in the minds of the younger generation. The sight of buckets filled with water and liquid soap together with hand sanitizer in almost every home is not something to be forgotten in a hurry by this generation. It is a common scene these days seeing children reminding their parents of the need to wash their hands on coming back from their daily business. This consciousness will certainly be extended to schools when COVID-19 holidays are over. It will beyond doubt go a long way in curbing the rate of hygiene related ill-health among the students. School environments will undoubtedly feel the impact of the sanitation awareness as some of the schools where these kids are trained pay little or less attention on how their lavatories and refectories for instance are kept. One wouldn’t hesitate in thanking World Health Organization on insisting on personal hygiene as a strategy in curtailing the spread of the virus.
For families that pray, the closure of places of worship enhanced their spirituality all the more as parents took it upon themselves in converting the family to a domestic church which hitherto was not sufficiently realized. The parents indeed took up the roles of priests and pastors in their homes. They read bible verses elaborately and give homilies to their families. For those who actually took up this role, they can testify that the family that prays together stays together.
Nevertheless, one cannot deny the fact that COVID-19 holidays must have presented the students in particular and the society in general with some issues of concern. Here are some of the effects we have already seen or expect to see in the coming weeks and months:
Need to re-visit the genesis: The planting season coincides with the COVID-19 break and students have been engaged into farming activities. They spend part of their free times, doing the house chores and the rest, sleeping/resting. This leaves them with little or no time to study.
Considering the duration of the lock down and the uncertainty surrounding the lifting the closure of schools, the students find it difficult to study. Feeling like prisoners set free at the first instance, some of the students in the boarding schools left practically with few of their books thinking it would soon be over. The uncontrolled teen mentality has left some of them with no hard copy point of reference even as they are suddenly thrown into e-learning. Some parents also care less about the education of their children and as such would get them involved in every other thing except continuing their learning. Where they are not ‘pushed’, it is obvious they would end up packing their learning materials indefinitely. As a result of these, a judicious teacher would need to hold a thorough revision on the past treated topics to bring their minds back on track. Few days ago, a young mother was complaining about her 3 year old daughter who has already forgotten the recitation of the alphabets.
Inexperienced online operations: Nigeria as a developing country is not well known for efficient e-study especially in the primary and secondary schools. Though some have been taught the very basics of computer, others have just the theoretical knowledge without any practical owing to unequipped ICT centres in schools/colleges. In addition, poor network coverage has been a hindrance mostly to those living in remote areas thereby throwing the expected integral success of e-learning into uncertainty.
The inequality of the enabling environment of e-learning has resulted in confusion over the criteria of judgment of the performance of the students at the end of the COVID-19 break. How do you assess a student of abjectly poor parents who may have to travel for miles to be able to access a cyber café? Are the schools to revisit all presumed to have been studied online irrespective of the disadvantaged students in that regard or are they to presume them understood by all the students?
Now let’s assume every student is able to study online, ceteris paribus, it leaves the laboratory practices untreated. The ambient of the interactive classroom is lost in this learning process. Laboratory practice needs an in-person guidance/interaction. Even the libraries now need a little bit of noise.
Increased quest for money making: The Christmas season rolled out; second term tuition fees had just been paid. Parents are at the verge of planning and achieving the year’s target before the camel’s back was broken!. The pandemic has left most parents out of jobs with little or no saving, mumbling and grumbling as the trending strife reads, “how do I feed these children at least twice a day?”. The children on their own part, in the quest to live up to their other essential needs, fall prey to get-rich-quick schemes (invest ₦100 and get ₦3000 in two weeks), not to mention the impostors who would ask for bank verification number (BVN) to take away the little one has. Some schools perceptibly wouldn’t consider the above global economic collapse in their incessant demand for money and endless fees that throw parents into panic. Schools are certainly drifting from being a place of formation for the future generations to purely business establishment.
Distortion in school calendar : Examinations like WASSCE etc are being delayed. This in turn will affect the prospective applicants of various higher institutions as there will be delay in award of certificates. Entrance examinations to schools were overtaken by the break while schools are precariously approaching the end of the second term which they never had. Is it possible that students will be admitted below standards by schools as to ensure their target numbers are met? Now that school certificate examinations are thrown off-balance, is it possible that some schools may be more concerned in strategizing for examination malpractices so as to demonstrate to the world that their schools ‘make’ it in external examinations? Integrity may be sacrificed at the altar of manufacturing pseudo brilliant students.
The pandemic not only affected the teaching but also the administration and eligibility of applicants. The universities will have to make changes in their admission processes and postpone application deadlines to suit the prospective stu
Depression/Sexual misconducts: The teen age is well accustomed to social life. The lockdown from the pandemic has restricted movement so much so that it is now difficult and life threatening to mingle and catch up with friends/loved ones. This has left most students in aloneness and consequently more depressed than they have been. They seem to lack care and affection which they only feel among their peers. “Out of sight, out of mind”, they say. Their phones and television is now their only companion. The use of the internet for e-learning by the students does not exclude the likely consequences of minors being exposed to adult websites.
Any child who gets winked at or praised by the opposite sex assumes to have found ‘love’. It sells them into unwanted pregnancy/homosexuality and other sexual misconducts. It is a matter of concern for parents leaving their teenagers at the mercy of their adult neighbours while they are engaged in their daily life struggles. Some have come back to meet appalling results from the COVID-19 break.
The effects of COVID-19 compulsory break on the students will be more conspicuous in the post Coronavirus era. The earlier parents and teachers seek to strengthen the benefits of this protracted break and at the same time work against the negative sides of it; the less cumbersome it becomes for the society in the post COVID-19 era especially regarding the students.